Flavors of pop music fandom in the era of Twitter
In the 90s, MTV Asia and Channel V were my avenues of choice for unbridled escapism. The two 24-hour music video channels were my window to a world of exotic destinations, convoluted and symbolism-ridden storylines, unshackled creativity, beautiful people, eye-popping special effects, and killer dance sequences together forming the visual backdrop for pop and rock hits from the western world. The stars that were the centerpieces of the music videos on both channels felt other-wordly. While I was obsessed with the music of many of the musicians of this era (and of the 80s), the other-wordliness in my mind was shaped and adorned by visuals showcased by music video television. The videos had the ability to leave indelible impressions in my mind. My fascination with these pop stars and rock stars intensified as I got older. From the age of 4 to 17, I lived outside the US in a country where the closest I could get to these celebrated individuals was in my living room as I watched them on television. Artists and bands barely did concerts in my part of the world – so the distance between them and me was real. I often wondered what a conversation or even a brief interaction with them through any medium (including an old-fashioned letter) would be like.
In 2006, the emergence of a new social media phenomenon in the form of Twitter fundamentally changed the perception of distance between fans and the seemingly inaccessible popstars. All of a sudden, fans no longer had to resort to fan mail to get their messages out to pop stars. Not only could they get their messages over to their musical idols instantly, but there was a non-trivial probability of receiving a prompt acknowledgment from their idols (as opposed to an automated response) either via a Retweet or an actual response on Twitter. For a fan, the validation of fandom is magnified by being “followed” on Twitter by that fan’s musical idol or idols. Not every fan is followed by the artist that he or she loves. Hence, being followed by a massive pop star (current or from yesteryear) on Twitter is an enviable badge of honor. It is the ultimate stamp of “cool by association”. In an interview with Celebmix.com, the owner the Twitter handle @dlipanews (a fan handle for British artist Dua Lipa) indicated that “I enjoy the bond that we have created within our fandom and of course, the bond that I have with Dua because of it. If it wasn’t for this account, we wouldn’t have a lot of the opportunities that we have”. In fact, whenever we get any followers for our radio station, we typically ask followers how they discovered our radio station and blog. One of the more interesting responses to this question was “Gary Barlow followed you and if you are good enough for him, you are good enough for me”. This is a reference to the halo we enjoy (which has little do with the music we feature on our station) and a stamp of approval that comes from being followed by Gary Barlow, the frontman of Take That – one of the great comeback acts in pop music history.
Furthermore, a “follow” comes with one game-changing perk – the opening of DMs (Direct Messages) between the artists and the fan. This is a direct two-way line of communication between the fan and artist. This is the next best thing to meeting or socializing with the artist in person. This is particularly of value to fans that live in countries that do not typically attract international music acts for promotional activity (a result of that country’s relatively trivial contribution to the global music industry’s revenue). For these fans, a “follow” from their idols is the pinnacle of proximity to the objects of their adulation. This phenomenon is NOT limited to the music world. It applies to any celebrity (and fans of that celebrity) on Twitter.
There is a new variant of this fandom on Twitter. It involves connecting with non-celebrities that are close to a music celebrity. This group of people can include acquaintances, significant others, professional colleagues, members of the artist’s band, or close relatives (e.g. Pete Conway – the father of British superstar Robbie Williams). I find this variant of fandom rather fascinating since I cannot help but wonder what the end goal of it is. Does it somewhat compensate for a lack of a reciprocal “follow” from a fan’s favorite artist or artists? Does it bridge the perceived distance between the artist and the fan in the fan’s mind? Does it sow the seeds of hope that these intermediaries might be able to facilitate some type of a connection between the fans and their favorite artists? While in most cases, this interaction is probably innocent, one cannot help but wonder if there are cases in this realm that are rooted in opportunism. Furthermore, one cannot help but question whether or not this propensity towards opportunism is rooted in the minds of the fans or in the minds of these intermediaries? The cynic in me thinks that some of the intermediaries could be like the friends of HBO television character Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier) in the hit show “Entourage”. In Entourage, Hollywood actor and sensation Vincent Chase’s friends are just there for the ride and have minimal (or non-existent) artistic credibility and hence have no real claim to the social circles that Vincent and his epic rise to stardom catapulted them into. These interactions do come with their fair share of drama. More often than not, they involve super-fans and the Twitter version of the artist’s entourage.
The flavor of fandom-centric behavior on Twitter stems from a seeming inaccessibility to an artist. The intensity of this behavior is magnified towards artists that rose to prominence before the advent of the internet and social media. One cannot help but wonder whether pop stars of this generation or future generations are likely to have the sense of mystique that their predecessors do. If accessibility to musicians becomes the new normal, will fans take it for granted and not be excited by the prospect of connecting with their idols? If so, what does this mean for the music industry? Part of creating “stars” in the music world is weaving a halo of mystique, god-like status, and inaccessibility around popstars. What happens when this halo is weakened by easy accessibility via Twitter?
It is impossible to predict the flavor of fandom but social media (especially Twitter) has undoubtedly been a catalyst for changing the rules of engagement between pop stars and fans. It has also changed the way fans interact with each other. It has forged communities that transcend geographical boundaries but has amplified the childishness (even among grown adults) and toxic aspects of fandom. While global fan communities are generally a good thing as they make the consumption of music social in a pop/rock landscape that has become fragmented in the last two decades. It is too early to assess whether Twitter is beneficial to the artist-fan ecosystem. Only time will tell.
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside music by new artists, we play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and the 90s. Noteworthy examples include Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Robbie Williams, Lighthouse Family, Take That, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, Jamiroquai, Suede, The Corrs, Dubstar, a-ha, George Michael, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!